Many of my childhood memories took place in the backseat of my mother’s Honda Pilot. Dozens of scratched-up CDs lived in the glove compartment, and album covers floated around the car. Eventually they would get to me. I would investigate them. “Abbey Road” and “Highway 61 Revisited” were frequent visitors to my lap, but “Best of Bowie” was my favorite. I traced Bowie’s different faces. Why did he have different eye colors? Was that a lightning bolt on his forehead, or was he bleeding? The cover was also blue, which was my favorite color in 2003.
Throughout my childhood I listened to the scratched-up “Best of Bowie” CD. With the advent of iTunes, I switched my medium. By middle school, the Ramones were my favorite band, and in eighth grade, my mother introduced me to Arcade Fire. It was magical. I related to the band’s angst and joy. Arcade Fire was my favorite band by high school, but Bowie hung on as one of my favorites.
In high school I befriended a girl obsessed with Bowie. She fascinated me. Her music taste was perfect. She was stylish and intelligent. She also had a dynamite voice. She introduced me to my first girlfriend. The relationship was a mess. It began and ended twice. She cheated on me and destroyed a successive relationship. I felt lost by senior year. Bowdoin gleamed with opportunity. But still, a summer separated me from my future. That was when I rediscovered Bowie.
In February 2015 I saw “Ziggy Stardust” on the grey-brown floor of my friend Nathaniel’s Volkswagen Rabbit. When I got home after a night on the town (getting pizza and arguing about politics), I listened to the entire album. After listening, I froze. I laughed at “Moonage Daydream,” I danced to “Suffragette City,” and I cried to “Rock n’ Roll Suicide.” I remembered “Starman” from “Best of Bowie.”
I have a tendency to go through phases. In second grade I went through a “Star Wars” phase. In eighth grade I obsessed over “30 Rock.” British politics enticed me in tenth grade. Soon after I bought “Low” on iTunes, I thought I had begun just another phase. It rapidly became clear that was not the case. Bowie’s music permeated throughout my room in 2015. After “Low” came “Heroes,” “Aladdin Sane,” and “Diamond Dogs.” Everything was Bowie.
Bowie influenced my embracement of my eccentricities. I became more comfortable in myself. I was confident in my sexuality, outbursts, and masculinity. I got over the dreadful girlfriend who dominated my high school experience. The truth is that Bowie did not influence me to pick identities; he guided me to accept who I was. It was okay if the man who I was a week ago was not who I was that day.
By the time I arrived at Bowdoin, my interested in Bowie had only expanded. I played “A New Career in a New Town” as I landed in Portland. After a summer of playing tennis with “Low” rumbling in the background, the first poster I taped up in my common room was the “Ziggy Stardust” cover.
In Brunswick I have tortured roommates and floor mates with constant Bowie music. One midnight during midterms, I played “Up the Hill Backwards” so many times to my floor mate Nicole I am convinced she thinks I was using “enhanced interrogation techniques.” I have spent many nights in the fourth floor Appleton study room watching the streetlights’s floating fires with Bowie whispering in my ear.
Bowie released the music video for his new song “Blackstar” in November. The video featured zombies, astronauts, and a woman with a tail. It was weird. Later Bowie released the haunting single “Lazarus.” I could not wait for the full album’s (also called “Blackstar”) release. I marked the day in my calendar and waited. But it did not dawn on me, of course, that I was marking Bowie’s death.
I filled the weeks between my final exam and January 8, Bowie’s birthday, with his music. I discovered “Lodger” and reappraised other albums I had looked over. When January 8 came, I consumed “Blackstar.” I listened to it upwards of five times. I argued with my mother about where it ranked on his best records. Later that day she wondered whether the dark lyrics could be a sign of its being his last album. I told her that idea made me depressed. On the night of January 10, I listened to “Blackstar” and “Lodger” on repeat. Unlike other nights, I began to feel sad. I started to think about my family and what would happen if one of them died.
Around 4 a.m. on January 11, my sister woke me up to tell me that David Bowie had died. I thought she was sleepwalking or dreaming. I told her to go back to bed. Jesse said she was serious. Reluctantly, I opened my computer and searched “Bowie.”
I went outside and sat. I cried. I thought it was a hoax at first. I kept refreshing the page, but the same message remained. I felt helpless. But my helplessness changed into appreciation throughout the day. David Bowie may have died, but he has left us with a self-epitaph: “Blackstar.” In fact, he left us with 25 incredible albums. That night I went outside and looked up at the stars. As I looked up I realized the stars looked very different today.